As part of our continued outreach for our documentary, Boys and Men Healing, we are grateful for the opportunity to interview Dr. Howard Fradkin, Ph.D., LICDC-CS. Dr. Fradkin has counseled over 1500 male survivors in individual, couples, group psychotherapy and weekend workshops over the course of his 32-year career as a Psychologist. As Co-Chairperson of the MaleSurvivor Weekends of Recovery, (www.malesurvivor.org), he has directed over 50 Weekends of Recovery since 2001, for more than 1200 men. Dr. Fradkin has also trained over 2,500 professional colleagues on the topic of male survivors of sexual abuse. His first book, Joining Forces: Empowering Male Survivors to Thrive, was published by Hay House in November, 2012.
Dr. Fradkin is one of the founding board members of MaleSurvivor, a nonprofit organization committed to preventing, healing, and eliminating all forms of sexual victimization of boys and men, where he serves as an advisory board member. Dr. Fradkin is a recognized expert for media in the U.S. and Canada, who want their listeners to understand more about male sexual victimization. He has been featured as an expert on Oprah Winfrey’s “200 Men” shows in November, 2010, Dr. Phil, Katie, Huffington Post TV, and many nationally and internationally syndicated radio shows. Dr. Fradkin founded Affirmations: A Center for Psychotherapy and Growth, in Columbus, OH in 1984, and is currently Partner Emeritus, where he provides psychotherapy in the areas of trauma recovery for men and women survivors, those struggling with depression and anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction and sex addiction, sexual orientation confusion and acceptance, people with HIV and AIDS, and group psychotherapy. Most recently, Dr. Fradkin has conducted trainings for military commanders, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, Victim Advocates and for the Veteran’s Administration on military sexual trauma. He also consults on mitigation cases of male survivors on Death Row and on other survivors needing expert witnesses for legal matters.
INTERVIEW WITH DR. FRADKIN:
You’ve been in the field for a long time, can you briefly share a bit about the opportunities available today for men healing from childhood sexual abuse and adult sexual trauma, as compared to say 15 years ago?
Men seeking help today for all forms of sexual trauma are much more able to find resources today than 15 years ago. There are many more trained therapists, over a hundred locally facilitated peer led support groups, a number of national and international organizations that focus on male sexual victimization, and rape recovery centers that now work with both women and men. A number of institutions have also been more willing to confront the sexual victimization that for decades they had denied, including many religious organizations, the Boy Scouts, organized sports on all levels, and many colleges and universities. Society has come a long way in terms of our willingness to confront the myths about boys and men who are sexually victimized—the main one being that boys and men are in fact victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault at alarming rates. One study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011) states that 1.9 million men in the US have been raped in their lifetime, with 23.4 percent of all men experiencing some form of sexual violence during their lifetime, including being made to penetrate, sexual coercion, unwanted sexual contact, and non contact unwanted sexual experiences.
Our organization, MaleSurvivor: The National Organization Against Male Sexual Victimization, has also grown tremendously in our ability to provide support, healing and hope to male survivors all over the globe since our inception in 1994. Our Weekends of Recovery program has helped over 1200 men since 2001, and some of their partners. We now offer Days of Recovery, community awareness events, a very active interactive website, resources including a directory of therapists and support groups, and we’ve trained thousands of therapists and allied professionals in the past decade as well.
Can you describe a bit about MaleSurvivor’s Dare to Dream events you’ve taken into towns and cities throughout the nation, and your partnerships with organizations in communities.
Dare to Dream is our community awareness event, during which we team up with local organizations, rape recovery and treatment centers, and local psychotherapists and allied healers, to include the community’s awareness about male sexual trauma. The programs feature films (including your own incredible documentary Boys and Men Healing; the 2 part Oprah show; and other short documentaries as well), a panel of male survivors who share their stories, strength and hope, and at least one psychotherapist who can share their clinical expertise. The audiences at these events have included men who for the first time ever have spoken about their abuse publicly, partners and family members seeking help to know their next steps, and professionals in the community eager to help and learn more. MaleSurvivor is eager to keep spreading these events all across the U.S. and Canada.
Dare to Dream is a very inspiring title. Would you speak directly to men sexually abused as boys and/or as men about your vision for them in terms of healing and thriving — which I’d imagine are highlighted in your book, Joining Forces: Empowering Male Survivors to Thrive.
I grew up on Walt Disney; and I always remember Walt saying, “if you can dream it, you can do it”. I also know how tough it is for many survivors to believe healing could ever be possible for them. Many have resolved to keep their sexual trauma a secret they take to their graves, so the idea that they could get help or ever speak about it is unimaginable for them. Dare to Dream is an invitation to all male survivors that you can dare to dream you can achieve not only healing, but also learn to thrive, one step at a time. In order to get on the path of healing, I invite you to know that you have the courage and strength inside to reach out for help and support. The male survivor community is huge, and the likelihood that in your circle of friends and acquaintances is another male survivor is extraordinarily high. Plus, with all the online resources now available, you can dare to dream by going online, reading about others who like you suffered in silence but now speak out loud about the abuse and assaults done to them, and in time you’ll find you too can speak your truth, and get all the support, hope and healing you have always deserved.
Every chapter in my book starts with the title, Dare to Dream. I invite the readers of Joining Forces: Empowering Male Survivors to Thrive, to dare to dream not only with me, but with the 20 men in the book who share the story of their journeys and what transpired in their healing as they dared to dream they could thrive.
For men just starting on the healing journey, what would you recommend in terms of taking steps to begin the healing journey?
The first step of healing is to begin to affirm for yourself every day, “I am worthy of healing.” This is so important because many survivors learned to believe the lies taught to them by the men and women who perpetrated sexual abuse and violence against them, the major ones being you deserved to be abused, it was your fault, and you need to keep this a secret.
Secondly, At MaleSurvivor, we believe that all healing begins with learning how to feel and be safe. Healing from sexual abuse necessitates learning how to feel safe enough inside and how to identify safe people who can provide the support every survivor needs and deserves. Many survivors had to escape in some manner while being abused and/or assaulted. There are some very specific skills survivors can learn to remain present in the moment. In my book, on the www.malesurvivor.org website, and in all of our programs, we teach survivors how ineffective their “manly” protection has been and introduce them to new ways of self-protection that will help them feel much safer and more powerful.
Thirdly, healing from sexual abuse requires survivors to refuse to isolate, and instead to join forces with other male survivors and professionals who can help them feel safe enough to disclose abuse secrets and find support.
Survivors often have learned many lies that cause them to choose isolation over connection. Examples are: When I isolate, no one can hurt me; By isolating, I’ll protect myself by keeping my abuse a secret; and I’ll do no harm to myself by isolating. Survivors can learn to challenge each of these lies, and discover there are safe ways to connect with other survivors and with professionals who can help. Survivors also need to learn to identify who is safe enough to share their secrets with, and that it is okay to establish healthy boundaries for safety. Many survivors had their boundaries violated, and in the process, learned they had no right to any boundary for safety.
Fourthly, perpetrators of abuse and assault and non-protectors teach survivors to believe there is something very shameful and wrong about themselves. Male survivors can heal by learning to be disloyal to the dysfunctional messages they learned and by substituting loyalty to functionality.
In order to heal, survivors must challenge themselves to be disloyal to the perpetrators and non-protectors who taught them lies about themselves and their self-worth, about trusting others, and about sex and love. It will be uncomfortable to know and feel this truth, and to be disloyal to someone who was a skillful manipulator: yet, you can learn to feel comfortable enough with this discomfort to take another step forward in your healing process. In place of lies, survivors can learn new messages that will empower them to heal. An example of a dysfunctional message is “since I was abused, I am unloveable”; a functional replacement could be: “I am loveable just as I am.”
What about men who have done a good deal of healing and counseling, what might be ways they can dare to dream?
One of the greatest challenges men face in later recovery is the challenge of inviting more emotional and romantic connection in their lives. I believe survivors can dare to dream they can become strong and sensitive men, capable of connecting with others emotionally, spiritually, romantically and sexually. It is possible to learn how to take risks for greater intimacy by becoming more aware of the blocks survivors learn to “protect” themselves and by discovering being vulnerable and open is actually much more protective in the long run. Many survivors have never learned to combine sex and intimacy, especially if the person who abused them told them they cared about them. It is possible to learn to trust again.
Partners of survivors who have done a lot of work on themselves can also dare to dream they too can join forces with their partner and together overcome the barriers to intimacy they may both have constructed to protect themselves and each other earlier in recovery.
Most importantly, all survivors can dare to dream it is absolutely possible and achievable to thrive as a male survivor. Thriving is a process. Every step a survivor takes to be safer inside, to reach out for support, and to join forces through connecting with other survivors and allies, will help them feel the power that comes from being part of a healing community. Every time they acknowledge their wounds, and practice self-compassion, understanding, and acceptance helps them thrive. Survivors who thrive improve their self-esteem, and believe they are worthy of success, connecting to others, and healing.
Do men have the opportunity to dare to dream at the Weekends of Recovery that MaleSurvivor offers?
Our weekends are great healing opportunities for men at all phases of their recovery, whether a man has just begun or if he’s been at it for quite some time. We offer five introductory weekends each year all over the country. Participating at a Weekend of Recovery, our 3 day intensive weekend healing opportunity, gives men the chance to “ super-size” their dare to dream opportunities. We start each weekend with the invitation that each participant can:
Dare to dream you can leave your isolation behind you this weekend;
Dare to dream you can make real connections with the men and women here in this place;
Dare to dream you can co-create and experience a sense of real safety here;
Dare to dream you can claim your right to use your voice to become a powerful male survivor who is sensitive to his own feelings and experiences and those of other survivors here;
Dare to dream you can tell your story this time and be understood and believed and supported like you have always deserved;
Dare to dream you can experiment with being more vulnerable and letting go and still feel safe;
Dare to dream you can learn how to be create a sense of internal safety and mindfulness;
Dare to dream you can connect with your sense of wonder and playfulness;
Dare to dream you can experiment with the creative side of you through artistic expression to share your experience;
Dare to dream you can leave here a freer, less burdened, and even a happier man!
I’ve heard you’ve lately been lecturing about “exquisite compassion”. That sounds really challenging. What is it and how can men practice offering themselves exquisite compassion?
Kathy, I’ve heard for years about how important it is for all of us to love ourselves, be kind to ourselves, etc, and I believe that is really important. Unfortunately, the notion of self love has become rather cliche, and I am afraid people no longer pay much attention to that idea. So I came up with the concept of “exquisite compassion”, which I believe is a necessity for anyone who wants to heal, male or female, and especially for those who are connected with survivors in any capacity, personally and/or professionally.
Exquisite compassion is the practice of being extraordinarily accepting and loving to yourself on a daily basis. We all are very practiced at being exquisitely non-compassionate with ourselves: we tend to all be our own worst enemies. And we can easily identify what the messages are we give ourselves to reinforce the notion that we do not deserve any compassion, especially when we make a mistake, choose to engage in self-defeating or self-destructive behavior, or hurt others. To practice exquisite self compassion, I invite survivors to identify messages they can offer themselves that instead, will help them to offer themselves the same degree of compassion they would readily offer someone else close to them. These messages may come from their own strengths, or from mentors outside of themselves. The key is to practice. Anytime you hear yourself being critical, invite yourself to practice exquisite compassion instead, and check how it feels inside to be extra kind, extra loving, and extra gentle.
What are some of the ways service providers and counselors can help empower men to thrive and dare to dream?
Service providers and counselors need to start by getting educated about how working with male survivors is very different than working with women. Men can be empowered when their therapists/providers help them to identify the self-defeating messages that keep them disempowered, and help them feel safe enough, comfortable enough, and strong enough to dare to dream they are worthy of being loyal to functionality. To achieve this, providers/therapists need to create emotional space for men to experience the emotional cost of being loyal to dysfunction, and to help them practice believing they are worthy of being loyal to functionality. Men are much more likely to minimize the abuse/assaults done to them; and they are much more likely to accept the blame and responsibility for the victimization due to male socialization. To empower men, they need help in confronting the lies taught to them growing up and the lies taught through the abuse process which have kept them down, depressed and powerless. Providers also need to learn tools to help men stay in their bodies when facing the tough emotions; and that means the provider has to also be willing to be uncomfortable too.
Can you share your vision for what’s needed in the future to better support men sexually abused as boys and men assaulted as adults?
Despite all the progress I have mentioned, it feels like we are still in the first quarter of a marathon. It is so extraordinarily painful to think about all the boys and men walking the planet today suffering in silence, full of shame, and convinced they are alone. We as a society need to tackle our own massive denial that allows most male survivors to stay silent. This must come from the top down. Imagine a President who called for an end to all sexual violence of boys and girls, women and men. The Office of Violence Against Women has just announced a program to fund grants to address male survivors, which is tremendously exciting. We need resources —money, effective outreach activities, more mainstream movies and tv shows that help break apart the myths, and promote the truths about how often boys and men are sexually abused and assaulted. Oprah Winfrey did a great thing in 2010 when she invited 200 male survivors into her studio, but we need much, much more help from the media. We need changed laws, so that offenders are no longer protected by statutes of limitation that are so unrealistic for survivors who do want to seek justice, but are long past the limited time window open to most survivors in most states. We need to help create a culture where men learn how courageous it is to speak the truth of being sexually abused and/or assaulted, and where perpetrators learn what an act of cowardice it is to offend someone more vulnerable than you, and that they will be held accountable for their violations. We need major therapeutic, medical, and community organizations to address this topic as it is still such a taboo topic. And not simply as a workshop, but I’d love to see keynote speeches at all major conferences in the coming years where male sexual victimization is front and center. The truth is it makes people uncomfortable, and if only we could help those uncomfortable people have even an ounce of empathy to understand if they feel uncomfortable thinking about a boy or man being abused, think how uncomfortable and ashamed and alone that boy or man feels after the abuse/assault.
We need all of us to join forces, men and women, to achieve a society where sexual abuse and sexual assaults are eliminated. This likely will not be in my lifetime, however the men and women who have already joined forces are massive, strong and passionate, and I believe together we will make a substantial difference in the years ahead.
What has been the most challenging and greatest joy in your work with male survivors of sexual trauma?
It is a challenge every time I hear about another man’s or boy’s painful disclosure of the abuse and/or assaults done to them, because it awakens the part of me that screams “it is not fair!” and to this day, still reminds me I too am a survivor. The scars have substantially healed, yet still at times they call me to dig deeper, feel more, risk more, let go more, and connect. My challenge then is to practice what I preach: offer myself exquisite compassion daily, because I need it too. The greatest joys of my work have come from empowering men to thrive, from those men trusting me with their deepest and most painful secrets, and helping them break their silence for good. I have been so incredibly blessed to be surrounded by hundreds of colleagues who share my passion and have joined forces with me to help make a significant difference in the lives of so many men and the people who are connected to them.
It is a joy every time I can conduct a training for colleagues and allied professionals, knowing I am making a difference in their lives, and helping our society move one step closer to the elimination of sexual abuse and assault.
To contact Dr. Fradkin email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about bringing a Dare to Dream Event to your community email: Trisha Massa, email@example.com
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